THE NIGHT STARTED out pleasant enough, but quickly turned sour. Elana was working her usual Friday night shift at Bar Acuda, the wine and tapas bar in the small town of Hanalei on the island of Kauai. Her co-worker stepped out for a cigarette, and not wanting to leave anything on the hot plate for too long, Elana collected one of Janelle's orders. She added the bruschetta and flank steak skewers to the collection of small plates on a table surrounded by a boisterous group of guys.
“Elana Tanner?” said a man’s voice from her left.
She looked for the speaker, wondering who could possibly know her, and gasped.
“It is you,” he said through gritted teeth.
How many times had Elana imagined coming face to face with him and all the things she would say? Yet here it was and she could only stand there speechless, having never expected the opportunity to ever arise.
The tray in her clammy hand still had two glasses of wine on it for another table, but she didn't care. She thrust it into the hands of a nearby busboy and rushed to the back where she could think.
Her manager walked by, calling out to one of the chefs.
“Jack,” she said quickly. “I’m not feeling well. I need to go home.”
His brow furrowed in concern, but Elana’s unwelcomed guest came barging into the kitchen before Jack could say anything.
“Hey!” said Kyle, pointing an accusing finger at her. His angular jaw clenched and his brown eyes locked with hers, causing her heart to race with fear. He wouldn’t really hurt her here in front of everyone, would he?
“Excuse me, sir, but you aren’t supposed to be back here,” said Jack.
“Well, you should think twice about allowing people like her to work here. She’s a god-damned murderer!”
“What?” Jack asked. He must have thought Kyle was just some raving lunatic.
“Not only is she a murderer,” said Kyle, not taking his eyes off Elana, “but she’s a coward as well.”
Elana’s hands flew to her hips. “How dare you!”
Jack placed a hand on her arm to silence her. “Sir, if you don’t leave now, I’m going to have to call the authorities.”
“Don’t worry,” Kyle said, narrowing his eyes at her. “I’m going. The last place I want to be is a place that is willing to hire her.” He turned and stormed back out to the dining area.
Elana followed Jack to the door where they watched Kyle gather his friends, throw down a wad of cash, and shove his way through a crowd at the front door.
Jack turned to face her. “What the hell was that all about? Why did he call you a murderer? Do you know him?”
Elana closed her eyes and took a breath. It was all she could do not break down in tears right here in front of her boss. She did her best to regain her composure and re-opened them.
“I know of him. His name is Kyle, Kyle Barnett. Technically we’ve never been formally introduced.”
“And the murder comment?”
Elana paused even longer this time. Maybe if she stood quiet long enough, the question would somehow disappear. The wrinkle in Jack’s forehead deepened as he continued to stare at her.
She pursed her lips for a second and then said, “I’m not a convicted felon if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Jack’s jaw went slack. After a pause he said, “You’re right. You should probably call it a night. Come in tomorrow before we open though so you and I can have a little chat.”
Tears threatened to spill over again. Not trusting herself to speak, Elana nodded. She grabbed her things and made her way out to her piece-of-crap jeep.
Kyle climbed into the driver’s seat of the Dodge Charger and impatiently waited for the rest of the crew to climb in.
“Seriously, man, what was that all about?” his friend Stephan said from the back seat.
“An ex-girlfriend,” mumbled Kyle. “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”
Kyle could feel the anger rolling off of him in waves and no one dared to ask him any more stupid questions. His friends found a new topic, but he tuned them out with his thoughts drifting back to the scene at the restaurant.
He’d heard that she’d left Seattle and Kyle had said good riddance without giving her any more thought beyond that. But now here she was, ruining his vacation. Didn’t employers run background checks anymore? Kyle imagined that jerk of a manager probably took one look at her thick brown hair and luscious red lips and decided that was enough. Or maybe she batted her blue eyes him and convinced him she had nothing to hide.
“You just missed the turn!”
Stephan’s voice brought Kyle back into the present and he slammed the brakes to flip a U-turn on the two lane road, causing the Charger’s tires to peel through gravel. An oncoming car blared its horn as it continued on its way.
“Jesus, Kyle,” said Stephan. “You really shouldn’t get this worked up over a girl.”
Kyle took a deep breath. “You’re right.” He needed to forget about her. But there was just one more thing he needed to do.
Elana sat on the postage-stamp sized deck of her equally small cottage with a second glass of red wine, trying to decide what to do. Thoughts of running away again first thing in the morning popped into her head. Perhaps she could avoid the conversation with Jack altogether. But a simple internet search of her name and he would know everything she had tried so hard to forget the past several months. It was possible he would do it anyway before their meeting tomorrow if he was curious enough. If she didn’t explain it face-to-face, it would just make it that much harder to get the next job. She polished off the last of her merlot and hoped Jack would be nice enough to give her a good reference. Hell, even no reference would be better than a negative one.
No, she decided, she wasn’t letting Kyle and his family run her out of town again. She would just have to face Jack tomorrow and convince him that none of this was her fault.